The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney – Book Review

The Nest

Families “do be crazy” (a term I have inappropriately appropriated) (although The Big Bang writers did it first). There are all kinds of books about families, but what they all seem to have in common is idiosyncratic family members and a certain amount of dysfunction (or a lot of it).

The Plumb family is at the center of the book The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. They are a modern family, Leonard, Sr. and Francie, and their four children – Leo, Beatrice, Jack, and Melody. The family grew up in New York City with a father running a business that involved feminine hygiene products and a mother who was not exactly a hand’s-on mom, although she seemed to understand her children’s differences well enough.

Leonard, Senior set up a nest egg trust fund for his children to be divided equally when the youngest, Melody, turned forty. Why did he make his children wait so long to inherit? Senior will explain if you read the book. The nest was meant to be small, but the administrator was an astute investor and the fund grew larger than expected.

Just before Melody’s 40th birthday something happens that changes everything. Of course I can’t tell, but think about the situation. Four adult Plumbs have been planning to inherit and living their lives accordingly. How would it affect your life if you knew you would come into money at a certain age? Would you spend ahead, or would you wait. Would it make you less or more ambitious about your own life goals? Each of the Plumb siblings is affected differently by the unexpected series of events. How will they adjust if their inheritance is less than expected?

This could be a very dark story but the author’s treatment keeps it light. There is angst but not deep anguish. It is a book to enjoy as summer reading – to shake your head at – but it is no great literary masterpiece. Still, this book review finds that it is well-written, a quick read, and entertaining enough to be a best seller.

Hillary Clinton: Also a Revolutionary

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In some ways Hillary Clinton is more of a revolutionary than Bernie Sanders. At least she is if you are a woman and/or you have children. Many women spend their lives helping women make ends meet financially, or helping women find ways to feed their children, or helping families get health care, or day care, or care for a disabled child or a child in trouble. These women (and, of course, some men) are social workers. They work hard, they see many sad things, they often have at least a master’s degree, and they are not very well paid for all they do hooking up people in need with the services that offer assistance. Sometimes they must face the fact that there are situations for which there is no assistance and they must live with a sense of failure, sorrow, and guilt. I’m sure there are times when they help people who are demanding and not particularly nice or cooperative and that is also frustrating and stressful.

Hillary Clinton has lived a life of social service despite the fact that she had a law degree and could have had a high-powered law career. But she came of age in a time of activism, a time when wrongs were being righted and that spirit of activism which she found on her college campus has continued to animate her throughout her career, even during her years as first lady. Like other “social workers” she often made considerably less money in order to work on behalf of women and children (even teenagers). Of course, once she married, money was not likely an issue for her as it has been for many of us, but she did not stop and become a lady of leisure, or an empty-headed social butterfly. She always has worked to make life better for all Americans. And even when she became Secretary of State and her world was the whole planet she just simply widened her sphere of activism to include women and children around the globe.

I don’t believe that most of us held on to our activist natures as we aged. Many of us had to work to live and our work place employers did not necessary love activism, although charity was quite acceptable. It became difficult in our adult years to be crusaders because we were either keeping our heads above water and focused on having some independence in our old age or we were sometimes close to or falling over the edge and needed some of the very services that social work provided.

But Hillary Clinton was wealthy enough and stayed independent enough to continue to be an activist almost all of her life. Are female revolutionaries different from men who tend to be more like disrupters? Are their activities perhaps more subtle and not as expansive and cult-like? Perhaps gender helps explain why Hillary’s activism may just be dismissed as women’s work. I don’t know if the same sexism operates here as in other parts of our culture. At least attend for a minute to this list of her accomplishments and although this list is from a left wing media source, the Daily Kos, you will find that it is merely a factual list in which every item has been and can be fact-checked.

  • First ever student commencement speaker at Wellesley College.
    •President of the Wellesley Young Republicans
    •Intern at the House Republican Conference
    •Distinguished graduate of Yale Law School
    •Editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action
    •Appointed to Senator Walter Mondale’s Subcommittee on Migratory Labor.
    •Co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
    •Staff attorney for Children’s Defense Fund
    •Faculty member in the School of Law at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
    •Former Director of the Arkansas Legal Aid Clinic.
    •First female chair of the Legal Services Corporation
    •First female partner at Rose Law Firm.
    •Former civil litigation attorney.
    •Former Law Professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
    •twice listed by The National Law Journal as one of the hundred most influential lawyers in America
    •Former First Lady of Arkansas.
    •Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1983
    •Chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession
    •twice named by the National Law Journal as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America
    •created Arkansas’s Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth
    •led a task force that reformed Arkansas’s education system
    •Board of directors of Wal-Mart and several other corporations
    •Instrumental in passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
    •Promoted nationwide immunization against childhood illnesses
    •Successfully sought to increase research funding for prostate cancer and childhood asthma at the National Institutes of Health
    •Worked to investigate reports of an illness that affected veterans of the Gulf War (now recognized as Gulf War Syndrome)
    •Helped create the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice
    •Initiated and shepherded the Adoption and Safe Families Act
    •First FLOTUS in US History to hold a postgraduate degree
    •Traveled to 79 countries during time as FLOTUS
    •Helped create Vital Voices, an international initiative to promote the participation of women in the political processes of their countries.
    •Served on five Senate committees:
    -Committee on Budget (2001–2002)
    -Committee on Armed Services (2003–2009)
    -Committee on Environment and Public Works (2001–2009)
    -Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (2001–2009)
    -Special Committee on Aging.
    •Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
    •Instrumental in securing $21 billion in funding for the World Trade Center site’s redevelopment
    •Leading role in investigating the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders.
    •In the aftermath of September 11th, she worked closely with her senior Senate counterpart from New York, Sen. Charles Schumer, on securing $21.4 billion in funding for the World Trade Center redevelopment.
    • Middle East ceasefire. In November 2012, Secretary of State Clinton brokered a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.
    •Introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act, intended to protect children from inappropriate content found in video games.
    •First ex-FLOTUS in US History to be elected to the United States Senate (and re-elected)
    •Two-term New York Senator
    -(senate stats here: https://www.govtrack.us/…)
    -(voting record here: http://votesmart.org/…)
    •Former US Secretary of State
    •GRAMMY Award Winner
    •Author

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/9/17/1422403/-Hillary-Clinton-s-Record-of-Accomplishments

This comparison of Hillary vs Bernie  is perhaps a bit unfair because I don’t have at hand a list of Bernie’s accomplishments, although I will eventually do a search for this. But I will say, that although Bernie’s “revolution” is not only directed at women and children, although he would like to make the economy of America work differently and be fairer in the way money is distributed, I don’t have the sense that Bernie has gotten his hands right into the dough, so to speak, and helped make the pizza. Until recently Bernie served in peaceful anonymity in the ranks of the US Congress and, although he had a consistent point of view, he was not able to impose much of it on the dialogue or make many laws that brought any significant changes for the American people.

Bernie Sanders seems to be in a carpe diem (seize the day) moment and now suddenly at the age of 74 he is grabbing for that powerful seat that he hopes will let him put a new stamp on America. He will turn America from the oligarchy it is becoming back into the democracy it is supposed to be. He will put his hands into the pockets of those who have made themselves wealthy at the people’s expense and he will take some of the filthy lucre back and put it to work giving all of us better lives.

I admit that this sounds pretty good. Yay for revolution. But there are so many questions. Will he have to disband Congress to make this happen, Congress which is at least half full of millionaires? What will the “new” economy be like? Will it be like the “old” economy only fairer? Will Wall Street be gone or will it just be less cutthroat and greedy? If the financiers on Wall Street lose their edge will the American economy still be competitive in the wide world? How much chaos will it take to replace the “Capitalists” in Congress with people who will be determined to keep money out of politics? What will happen if he wins the Presidency and he loses the revolution?

Hillary is a revolutionary who stays within the system, tries to change it from within, fights for fairness through social programs and human services and the education and empowerment of women. Bernie is a revolutionary who wants to blow up the system, to change it to something perhaps unrecognizable. It might be much better than what we have; it might be worse. We are not clear about exactly what he wants to do, what steps he wants to take, what the end product will look like and feel like.

With Hillary we get a passion for people, with Bernie we get a passion for “real” democracy. I may be choosing Hillary because I am a chicken, too chicken to want systemic change. Or I may be choosing Hillary because she will work within the system and try to bring everyone along with her and the system will remain the America we recognize. Perhaps Hillary will not be able to accomplish any of her goals to make life better for average Americans. Perhaps blowing up government or as the Republicans want to do shutting down government are the only choices we are left with. Perhaps we should give one more try to the old way where our elected representatives knuckle down and hammer out laws that truly reflect the needs of the people they serve. But to not elect Hillary Clinton because she is not authentic and not a true activist is to be uninformed about her life and her career.

By Nancy Brisson

 

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough – Book

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My entire mental schema for the Wright brothers contained a total of 4 facts. I knew that one brother was Orville and one was Wilbur. I knew they built the first airplane capable of flight and that the first flight was made from Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My schema also contained some visuals: a rather sketchy approximation of what that first airplane looked like (it looked like a cross between a box kite and a paper airplane model) and a visual image of the dunes at Kitty Hawk, NC from a visit to the Outer Banks, where my friends showed absolutely no interest in digging deeper into the wonders of flight, focused as they were on the joys of flirtation and looking good in a bathing suit.

But the newest biography called The Wright Brothers by David McCullough got such great press that I, who had always been somewhat fascinated with man’s quest to fly and with the first time this was successfully accomplished, was tempted to stray from fiction. This biography was well worth the detour.

I have seen drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, quite antique, that show wing assemblies that could be strapped to men. These drawings (looking like angel wings) attest to man’s envy of s bird’s ability to soar above the earth, perhaps to the very heavens. The drawings also trace the historical roots of our actual attempts to emulate the birds and lift off from solid ground, free of gravity, into the blue sky.

Wilbur and Orville Wright did not live in Kitty Hawk, NC. They only went there for the dunes and the wind and to study the shore birds that inspired them so strongly.  Indeed the ocean winds over the dunes at Kitty Hawk enabled man’s first flight ever on December 13, 1903 and then the first flight caught on film on December 17, 1903. Sustained flights took more time, more tinkering, and more tests; even a few accidents. But those two brothers who came from Dayton, Ohio, from the steady, devout and loving family of a preacher possessed the strong work ethic and the drive that kept them working until they made a plane that could reliably take off, fly and land.

The brothers (Wilbur, older – Orville, younger) were the kind of men who almost always wore suits even when tinkering in their workshop. They got their income from their bicycle shop and when they realized how passionately they wished to invent a machine that could fly, they were able to use the workshop behind the bicycle shop to fashion their flying machine. They immediately grasped the advantages that flying would give America in a war and they asked, unsuccessfully for money from the War Department.

A number of people in America (even at the Smithsonian), in Great Britain, in France were all racing to create a glider with an engine which could sustain flight over time and distance. This pursuit was scientific and the brothers knew their physics. They studied wing design and lift. Secrecy was somewhat important because the men who competed to be first and best were not averse to a bit of what we would classify now as “corporate espionage”. Fortunately for the brothers the others were not as meticulous and did not have the brothers’ gift for the physics of flight. Still there were many legal battles with competitors over patent issues.

Going back to the gritty and very inspiring beginnings of something we take so much for granted in our era of jets and airbuses is good for our souls and David McCullough, however workman-like his account may seem, also takes us “up, up in the air with those glorious men in their flying machines.” Flying has become essential both in warfare and in peace. Whatever would those brothers think of stealth bombers and drones? At any rate, I now consider my Wright brothers’ schema well-plumped with new connections – and that is just one of the reasons I love reading books.

Bernie Flaws

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I am always talking about what imperfect beings people are. If you’re a believer then it goes right back to those two original forebears of ours, Adam and Eve. They could have left us full of blissful ignorance and innocence but they were weak and so we have dual natures. Each one of us holds the paradoxes within us, in differing proportions, because of so many variables like our nurture in childhood, the social circumstances into which we are born, the cultural context that surrounds us during our relatively short lives.

We hold strengths and at the same time weaknesses, we are good and we are bad, we have talents and things that we seem to have little skill for, we are both stable and unstable at times, happy and depressed, healthy and unhealthy, brilliant and dumb all mixed in an infinite array that makes each one of us unique in spite of our similarities. If you are not a believer it is almost enough to make you believe that the Christian origin story holds more than a kernel of truth. Or we are just made this way?

What we also know to be true is that all of our actions, our inventions, our discoveries, and our endeavors hold the same human paradoxes within them; that they can be used for good or for evil; that they can make our lives worse or better. We know that a flawed human can twist anything to evil purposes or a human with better motives or character can act from strength and get positive results from the same event, invention, idea or strategy. Nuclear energy is probably our clearest example of this – used benignly it can provide power to run the devices that make our lives more comfortable – used as a weapon it can wipe out cities.

We get this stuff on a cosmic level, but we also understand that these same paradoxes operate in our daily lives. So I accept and perhaps you do also that Hillary Clinton is both experienced and flawed. I accept that she made a mistake choosing a private server if only because it gave her many enemies an opening to argue that she was either planning to have a way to hide information or that she is capable of making bad choices, both things we don’t really look for in a person running for President of the United States. However, all Presidents make mistakes given the complex issues they deal with minute to minute. Sometimes we get a leader who seems to make brilliant decisions but we usually don’t know that until we get some historical perspective on their legacy. And from the distance offered by time we are able to see that mistakes were also made.

However it seems that people have difficulty seeing the flaws that Bernie Sanders might have. His message is so consistent and has been for so many years that he seems steady and dedicated. Recent events reveal that Bernie Sanders is starting to show the ways in which his very strengths might also be his weaknesses. Bernie is showing himself to be a bit compulsive these days. He does not seem to be terribly flexible.

He cannot seem to show us the practical details that will allow him to effectively change things in Washington and in America. How does he plan to win new rights for workers? How does he plan to rein in Wall Street without tanking our already hobbled economy? How will he find the money for strengthening benefits? Can he raise the taxes on the wealthy? In almost every area we see the need to change the way wealth moves in America and the need for fairness to equalize privilege. It makes sense to us but Bernie Sanders has not really spelled out how he intends to get us there. So his message may be all to the good, but his vagueness and the way his specifics are sort of stored in the “cloud” and inaccessible may not be all to the good.

And again I suggest that Bernie Sanders is almost coming off a bit obsessive-compulsive lately. He said he would have a fifty state strategy, which is fine, but he doesn’t seem inclined or able to make adjustments for the good of the Democratic Party. I suppose if you are staging a Revolution you need to be a revolutionary, not someone who compromises. But is Bernie’s defensiveness and his meanness actually resulting from an inability to be flexible, to have a certain degree of political nimbleness? He has remained true to socialist principles for so many decades while America wanted nothing to do with socialism.

Personally, I do not believe that socialism is necessary in a democracy because government is already of the people, by the people, and for the people. Where I do agree with Bernie is when he recounts how far away we are from a true democracy. It is not socialism I fight for, it is democracy. In a democracy we don’t need socialism because we are the people and we take care of all the people. But if our democracy is becoming or has already become an oligarchy then Mr. Sanders is right in arguing that the people (all the people) need to take back their government and that this will probably mean making money talk less and every vote count more. However we must accept that if rich folks take their money out of government, which they have shown a willingness to do, there may be fewer things our government can do for ‘we the people’.

But what really bothers me is how Bernie Sanders has seemed more and more like a curmudgeon lately, so intent on his own business that he barely notices what is going on around him. He does not admonish Donald Trump in any sustained way for his outrageous pronouncements and astonishingly unevolved policies. He does not raise money for down-party candidates (except that he did find three worthy souls). He fights with Democratic Party leaders and threatens to bring revolution to the Democratic Convention. He has a right to do these things but they are not done in a manner that suggests strength and composure. They are done with old man bitterness and complaints about bad rules and stacked decks. Instead of sounding like an eventual winner, he just sounds like a sore loser. Bernie Sanders does have flaws and lately he is showing them to us almost every day. If you’re planning to vote for him because you think he is Mr. Wonderful, then I guess you won’t have noticed that he is just looking like Mr. Ticked Off.

May 2016 Book List

 

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Amazon Books

 

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee – (NF)

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

The After Party: A Novel by Anton DiSclafini

Sweetbitter: A Novel by Stephanie Danier

The Summer Guest: A Novel by Alison Anderson

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Happy Family by Tracy Barone

The Sport of Kings: A Novel by C E Morgan

Born of a Tuesday: A Novel by Einathan John

The Noise of Time: A Novel by Julian Barnes

LaRose: A Novel by Louise Eldrich

The Atomic Weight of Love: A Novel by Elizabeth J. Church

The Honeymoon by Dinita Smith

 

Biographies and Memoirs

 

Braving It: A Father, a Daughter and an Unforgettable Journey into the Alaskan Wild by James Campbell

The Romanovs 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Valient Ambition: George Washington, Bendict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick

Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hill by Mark Lee Gardner

Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman

My Lost Brothers: The Untold Story by the Yarnell Hill Fire’s Lone Survivor, by Brendon McDonough, Stephan Tally

A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight by Maria Toopakai, Katharine Holstein

The Bridge Ladies: A Memoir by Betsy Lerner

The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen

Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story by Matti Friedman

Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me by Ron Miscavige, Dan Koon

 

Mystery and Thriller

 

The Fireman by Joe Hill

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Redemption Road: A Novel by John Hart

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Girls on Fire: A Novel by Robin Wasserman

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

The 100 Year Miracle: A Novel by Ashley Ream

Night Shift (A Novel of Midnight, Texas) by Charlaine Harris

Wilde Lake: A Novel by Laura Lippman

 

Publisher’s Weekly Books

 

Gold of Our Fathers by Kivei Quartey (Darko Dawson)

Father’s Day by Simon Van Booy

Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris

One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michele Audin

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens

Born on a Tuesday by Einathan John

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (YA)

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley (Memoir)

Zero K by Don Lillo

La Rose by Louise Erdrich

Sergio Y by Alexandre Vidal Porto

The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (YA)

Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black

 

Independent Booksellers Books

 

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

My Sunshine Away by M O Walsh

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Zero K by Don DeLillo

The Last Mile by David Baldacci

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Life’s Golden Ticket by Brendon Burchard

The Green Road by Anne Enright

The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahan

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Redemption Road by John Hart

Journey to Munich by Jennifer Winspear

The Lost Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

Maestra by L S Hilton

Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Bachman

Extreme Prey by John Sandford

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

The Sport of Kings by C F Morgan

Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom

Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh

Robert B Parker’s Slow Burn by Ace Atkins

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

 

 

Purity

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Purity is probably the word of the day, or the summer, or the year. Panera promises us food that is clean and pure. (I keep picturing a raccoon at a stream washing its food.) I recently read Jonathan Franzen’s book Purity (you can see my review on Goodreads). Bernie Sanders is idolized for his political purity. Conservatives have been testing candidates for purity for ages. In fact Conservatives punish Republicans who don’t toe the Conservative line closely enough by putting up opponents against them in primaries and funding these bought candidates with millionaires’ money, thereby stripping the impure ones of power. It is sort of like being cashiered from the French Foreign Legion and having those buttons cut from your uniform with a sword. Eric Cantor knows all about this.

But Jonathan Franzen and I both have doubts about claims of purity by anyone, given our flawed natures. Our philosophical selves tell us that purity is something that is an ideal worth striving for as long as we realize that it is a goal that probably can only be attained in small matters for limited amounts of time. You may argue that Panera really is removing artificial (manmade) ingredients from its dishes. You may argue that they are trying to choose only the healthiest items from the most organic and natural sources for their offerings and I do not doubt that they giving diners some really trendy choices that attempt to taste good without resorting to the usual American options that are deep fried and generously salted or sugared. Does their ad make me want to eat at Panera? I’m sorry to say it does not but it may be motivating others. Cynically it may just be an advertising ploy to point out the recent difficulties that Chipotle has experienced and to try to tempt their customers to come eat at a place that has not had these kinds of problems.

I recall when my good friend had a young daughter that she wanted to protect from a germy world. We could never be sanitary enough to satisfy her in her campaign to rid her daughter’s world of all bacteria (except the ones in yogurt). We called her The Germinator. She grew up in a country family with 10 children. I’m sure that her family was just like my family with 8 children. My mom never knew that we made mud pies we actually tried to eat. We examined every bug we could find up close and personally. We played for hours on end in the sand pile which could well have been used as a toilet by any number of animals. We waded in ponds full of algae to catch tadpoles. Our exposure to germs actually may have made us healthier. It seems that purity is not always advantageous.

People learn to be compassionate and aware of the shortcomings and the needs of the other people around them by living lives that entail both good times and bad times, both easy times and hard times. Panera cannot protect us from all the impurities that might be in food in these times of corporate crops and too many people and food that travels from distant places and is grown in ways that cannot be completely controlled. Purity seems a bit too “precious” a thing to worry about; a thing that only a society that is a too affluent and too comfortable has time to think about. There are children who survive every day by picking through rubbish on dumps.

I am not saying that we should not applaud people who strive for purity, but I am saying we should be skeptical of people who claim to have captured that elusive thing called purity. I do not believe those Bernie Bros and millennials who worship the purity of Bernie Sanders. Bernie has too much compassion for the less fortunate to have lived a life without painful decisions and hard times. That he is basically a good guy, I believe. That he is pure, I do not. This is the kind of argument that makes Bernie’s followers sound like they are in danger of becoming a cult. Bernie cannot give us a “pure” America. If he did it would not be a society that lived and evolved. It would have to be static. I think I would be as adverse to a “clean and pure” America as I am to that ad that keeps saying how “clean and pure” the food is at Panera’s. Sorry Panera. Sorry Bernie Bros. My apologies millennials.